Since there are so many facets of the history that people of African descent have made in this country, I’ve decided to continue my “Black History 365″ series from my poetry blog here on my AfrocentriqueAZ blog. I’ll be posting a new “First Black” entry every Wednesday. This week is the first African American to sing at Carnegie Hall: Sissieretta Jones.
Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones, known as Sissieretta Jones, (January 5, 1868 or 1869 – June 24, 1933) was an African-American soprano. She sometimes was called “The Black Patti” in reference to Italian opera singer Adelina Patti. Jones’ repertoire included grand opera, light opera, and popular music.
Matilda Sissieretta Joyner was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, United States, to Jeremiah Malachi Joyner, an African Methodist Episcopal minister, and Henrietta Beale. By 1876 her family moved to Providence, Rhode Island, where she began singing at an early age in her father’s Pond Street Baptist Church.
In 1883, Joyner began the formal study of music at the Providence Academy of Music. The same year she married David Richard Jones, a news dealer and hotel bellman. In the late 1880s, Jones was accepted at the New England Conservatory of Music. In 1887, she performed at Boston’s Music Hall before an audience of 5,000.
Jones made her New York debut on April 5, 1888, at Steinway Hall. During a performance at Wallack’s Theater in New York, Jones came to the attention of Adelina Patti’s manager, who recommended that Jones tour the West Indies with the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Jones made successful tours of the Caribbean in 1888 and 1892.
In February 1892, Jones performed at the White House for President Benjamin Harrison. She eventually sang for four consecutive presidents — Harrison, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt — and the British royal family.
Jones performed at the Grand Negro Jubilee at New York’s Madison Square Garden in April 1892 before an audience of 75,000. She sang the song “Swanee River” and selections from La traviata. She was so popular that she was invited to perform at the Pittsburgh Exposition (1892) and the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago (1893).
In June 1892, Jones became the first African-American to sing at the Music Hall in New York (renamed Carnegie Hall the following year). Among the selections in her program were Charles Gounod’s “Ave Maria” and Giuseppe Verdi’s “Sempre libera” (from La traviata). The New York Echo wrote of her performance at the Music Hall: “If Mme Jones is not the equal of Adelina Patti, she at least can come nearer it than anything the American public has heard. Her notes are as clear as a mockingbird’s and her annunciation perfect.” On 8 June 1892, her career elevated beyond primary ethnic communities, and was furthered when she received a contract, with the possibility of a two-year extension, for $150 per week (plus expenses) with Mayor James B. Pond, who had meaningful affiliations to many authors and musicians. The company Troubadours made an important statement about the capabilities of black performers, that besides minstrelsy, there were other areas of genre and style.
WIKIPEDIA SOURCE LINKS:
- History’s Unsung Opera Star, National Public Radio, June 11, 2007
- Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones at Encyclopædia Britannica
- Sissieretta Jones at The African American Registry
- Sissieretta Jones at Black History Pages
- Sissieretta Jones at The Black Past
- Sissieretta Jones at Find-A-Grave